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Nikephoros I
Emperor of the Romans
Gold solidus of Nikephoros I, marked: niciforos basile(us)
Byzantine emperor
Reign31 October 802 – 26 July 811
Died26 July 811 (aged 60–61)
Battle of Pliska, Pliska
ReligionEastern Orthodox

Nikephoros I (Greek: Νικηφόρος; 750 – 26 July 811), also known as Nicephorus I The Open-minded, was the Byzantine emperor from 802 to 811. He began his career as genikos logothetēs under Empress Irene, but later overthrew her to seize the throne. Prior to becoming emperor, he was sometimes referred to as "the Logothete" (Greek: ὁ Λογοθέτης) and "Genikos" or "Genicus" (ὁ Γενικός), in recognition of his previous role.

During his reign, Nikephoros engaged in military campaigns against both the Arabs and the Bulgarians, although the outcomes were varied. While leading an invasion into Bulgaria, he suffered a defeat and was killed at the Battle of Pliska.


According to several sources outside the Byzantine context, such as Michael the Syrian, al-Tabari, and Mas'udi, there is a tradition that suggests Nikephoros had Ghassanid Arab origins and that he descended from the final Ghassanid ruler Jabala ibn al-Ayham.[1][2][3] Al-Tabari assets that he obtained this information from Byzantine sources,[4] although no surviving Byzantine chronicle explicitly mentions the emperor's ethnic background.[1] Paul Julius Alexander, a modern scholar, proposes that al-Tabari might have indeed transmitted information found in Byzantine writings. He points to an apocalyptic text that has been preserved in a "hopelessly corrupt" copy, where it is mentioned that the emperor hailed "from the race of Gopsin".[4] The historian Nadia Maria El-Cheikh transmits another, alternative, tradition from Arab sources (specifically al-Masudi), in which Nikephoros supposedly originated from the Iyad tribe; she doubts both traditions, believing that they are simply legends.[5]


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The Byzantine Empire at the beginning of the reign of Nikephoros I, in 802 AD.

Nikephoros, a patrician hailing from Seleucia Sidera, was appointed as the finance minister (logothetēs tou genikou) by Empress Irene. He played a significant role in a power struggle among courtiers, which ultimately resulted in the removal of Irene from the throne and her subsequent exile. With the support of his co-conspirators, Nikephoros ascended to the position of emperor on 31 October 802. In 803, he crowned his son Staurakios as co-emperor.

During his reign, Nikephoros undertook a comprehensive reorganization of the Roman Empire and made efforts to strengthen its borders. He established new administrative divisions, known as themes, in the Balkans and resettled Greeks from Anatolia in these regions. To fund the expansion of his military forces, he managed the empire's finances with strict discipline, which led to the displeasure and hostility of his subjects. According to later accounts by Theophanes Continuatus in the 10th century and Synopsis Chronike in the 13th century, the rebellion of General Bardanes Tourkos in 803 may have been triggered by dissatisfaction with Nikephoros' handling of army salaries. Nikephoros secretly negotiated with two influential supporters of Bardanes, Generals Leo and Michael, who convinced the rebel army to disband. Bardanes was subsequently captured, blinded, and sent to a monastery. A conspiracy led by the patrician Arsaber had a similar outcome.

Nikephoros' imposition of taxes and his attempts to exert control over the church created a rift between him and the clergy. Although he appointed an iconodule named Nikephoros as the patriarch, Emperor Nikephoros was portrayed unfavorably by ecclesiastical historians such as Theophanes the Confessor.

Khan Krum captures Nikephoros I, from the 14th-century Manasses Chronicle

In 803, Nikephoros concluded a treaty known as the "Pax Nicephori" with Charlemagne but refused to acknowledge Charlemagne's imperial status. Relations between the two deteriorated, leading to a war over Venice between 806 and 810. While Nikephoros managed to suppress a rebellion in Venice in 807, he suffered significant losses to the Franks. The conflict was ultimately resolved after Nikephoros' death, resulting in the assignment of Venice, Istria, the Dalmatian coast, and Southern Italy to the Eastern realm, while Rome, Ravenna, and the Pentapolis were included in the Western realm.

By withholding the tribute that Irene had agreed to pay to the caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd, Nikephoros committed himself to a war against the Arabs.[6] Due to Bardanes' disloyalty, Nikephoros was forced to lead the military campaign himself, resulting in a severe defeat at the Battle of Krasos in Phrygia in 805.[6] In 806, a Muslim army comprising 135,000 soldiers invaded the Empire. Unable to match the Muslim forces, Nikephoros agreed to peace on the condition of an immediate payment of 50,000 nomismata and an annual tribute of 30,000 nomismata. With the caliphate embroiled in a succession struggle following Hārūn al-Rashīd's death in 809, Nikephoros was able to focus on dealing with Krum, the Khan of Bulgaria, who was posing a threat to the empire's northern frontiers and had recently conquered Serdica (Sofia).

In 811, Nikephoros launched an invasion of Bulgaria, achieved victory over Krum twice, and sacked the Bulgarian capital, Pliska. The Chronicle of Michael the Syrian, a 12th-century patriarch of the Syrian Jacobites, describes the brutality and atrocities committed by Nikephoros: "Nikephoros, emperor of the Roman Empire, walked into the Bulgarians' land: he was victorious and killed great number of them. He reached their capital, seized it and devastated it. His savagery went to the point that he ordered to bring their small children, got them tied down on earth and made thresh grain stones to smash them." During the retreat of Nikephoros' forces, the imperial army was ambushed and annihilated in the Varbishki mountain passes at the Battle of Pliska by Krum. Nikephoros perished in the battle, and Krum is said to have had his head severed and used his skull as a drinking cup.


By an unknown wife Nikephoros I had at least two children:

See also


  1. ^ a b Bekkum, Wout Jac van; Drijvers, Jan Willem; Klugkist, Alexander Cornelis (2007). Syriac Polemics: Studies in Honour of Gerrit Jan Reinink. Peeters Publishers. p. 97. ISBN 978-9042919730.
  2. ^ Cooper, Eric; Decker, Michael J. (2012). Life and Society in Byzantine Cappadocia. Springer. p. 42. ISBN 978-1137029645.
  3. ^ Biliarsky, Ivan (2013). The Tale of the Prophet Isaiah: The Destiny and Meanings of an Apocryphal Text. Brill. p. 208. ISBN 978-9004254381.
  4. ^ a b Alexander, Paul Julius (1985). The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition. University of California Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0520049987.
  5. ^ El-Cheikh, Nadia Maria (2004). Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs. Harvard CMES. pp. 95, 132 n. 40. ISBN 978-0-932885-30-2.
  6. ^ a b Mikaberidze 2011, p. 222.


Nikephoros I Nikephorian dynastyBorn: 8th century Died: 26 July 811 Regnal titles Preceded byIrene Byzantine emperor 802–811 Succeeded byStaurakios Political offices Preceded byConstantine VI in 782,then lapsed Roman consul 803 Succeeded byLapsed,Leo V in 814